Mary visits Elizabeth: March 15th 2021

Number 2: 10-3:51

The Tent of Meeting (where Moses could talk to God) and the camp of the Levites (who were to take care of the tabernacle) were placed right in the centre of the Israelite camp (2:17) and what an awesome camp it must have been. The census counted 603,440 men over 20 years in age and so adding women and children there must have been over 2 million people in the Israelite camp. I don’t think any modern-day logistics experts could supply provisions to a mobile group this large. No wonder, they had to rely on God’s miraculous daily provision of food (manna) and water.

Aaron and his sons were to serve as priests and were given special access privileges. ‘Anyone else who approaches the sanctuary must be put to death‘ (3:10). We are amazingly blessed today that we can have the Holy Spirit permanently dwelling within us and address God as ‘Father’, after the death of Jesus allowed us all to be God’s adopted children.

God had earlier stipulated that all Israelite first born males belonged to him but he now swaps them for the Levites. He is God, he can change his mind and do what he wants. Unfortunately, there weren’t quite enough Levites (22,000) when compared to 22,273 firstborn males. So 5 shekels (worth 10 dollars at today’s price of silver) had to be paid to redeem each of the additional 273 firstborn. This money was given to the priests. Even in the middle of the desert, hard cash is obviously necessary to keep a religious enterprise going.

Luke 1:39-56

Mary goes to visit her relative Elizabeth. The jury seems to be out on exactly how they were related. Elizabeth may have been Mary’s aunt (due to the age gap) or cousin. If she was a cousin this would have made Elizabeth’s son (John the Baptist) Jesus’ second cousin.

When I first started attending Church weekly, verse (41), ‘When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb‘ absolutely stunned me. The fact that baby John (the Baptist) in the womb (filled from conception with the Holy Spirit) leaped with joy when the foetal Jesus came into the house is stunning. And here we have a second person in the New Testament (Elizabeth) being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit‘. The Spirit didn’t ‘come upon her’ as happened temporarily to prophets in the Old Testament, it actually filled her – as we can be filled today, if we just ask. She instantly displayed one of the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, a word of knowledge, identifying that both Mary and Jesus were blessed and that Jesus was ‘Lord’. The Holy Spirit gives this supernatural gift to some believers today and it’s a powerful weapon in converting people. When I first visited a Pentecostal church, I was overwhelmed with emotion when a church elder (with his back to me at the front of the church) pinpointed the agony I was currently going through and reassured me that God would deliver me. Which He did. Alleluia.

Elizabeth also recognises Mary’s outstanding level of faith. Mary fully believes that what God has said to her will come true.

The meeting between the two holy foetuses and their mothers is one of the most joyous occasions in the Bible. This is the last time I will use the word ‘foetus’ because I never use the word normally. I use the term ‘unborn child’ or ‘unborn baby’. The word ‘foetus’ has been hijacked by the Devil to sanitise the horrific practice of abortion. Modern society sorts unborn children into either ‘babies’ when they are wanted and ‘foetuses’ when they are to be disposed of. For I believe that someone else was watching this joyous meeting of the unborn. Someone who was intensely interested in the upsurge in activity in the angelic realm and was tracking both Mary and Elizabeth. Satan himself. He would have loved to have murdered Jesus and John in the womb but they were protected by powerful guardian angels. Saint Michael, the Prince of the Angels, had been assigned to permanently guard Jesus during his life on earth. Satan had been defeated by Saint Michael before (Revelation 12:7).

Satan has been waging war on the unborn ever since in revenge for not managing to kill the greatest prophet and the Son of God in the womb. According to the World Health Organisation, at least 42.6 million unborn children were killed in 2020 (https://www.spuc.org.uk/News/ID/384687/426-million-abortions-in-2020-the-leading-cause-of-death-worldwide). 22% of pregnancies in the USA are aborted and abortion is now the leading cause of death worldwide. The numbers are increasing.

When it comes to supporting abortion, adults tend to be too sophisticated. Very few adults would label themselves as ‘pro-death’ or even ‘pro-abortion’, they try to take a more nuanced approach and come up with the most twisted scenarios to try to convince themselves that sometimes it is a ‘necessary evil’ particularly if babies are conceived in terrible, tragic circumstances. However, God is much more straightforward. In matters of morals, there is no wriggle room. We have to look at the situation through the eyes of a child. I would hope that the vast proportion of children if asked about a baby growing in a mother’s womb would agree that it cannot be killed deliberately under any circumstances. So should we. Killing an unborn child is a grave sin. Of course, God will always forgive and welcome back the perfectly contrite from any circumstances but if people don’t repent and renounce this practice, there are everlasting and terrible consequences for them.

Christians can’t be smug and theoretically disapprove of abortion, while failing to publicly voice this opinion or do anything about it. Lack of action, against a global outrage, is a sin. You don’t have to stand outside an abortion clinic yourself – even though this has saved many lives. At the very least, write to your MP whenever there is a debate about abortion and express your opinion about the universal right to life. Join an organisation like the ‘Society for the Protection of Unborn Children‘ (https://www.spuc.org.uk/). If you don’t do something positive to fight this practice, you are morally complicit in it.

Back to the positive. Mary’s song ‘The Magnificat‘ is beautiful and echoes Hannah’s prayer in (1 Samuel 2:1-10). Trendy theologians – from which you should run a mile – come out with terrible slurs about Mary and ask how could a illiterate, teenager write such a magnificent prayer? Maybe it was written later by someone else? However, I agree with the legend that Mary had been raised in the temple from the age of 3 to at least 12. She had an intimate knowledge of the scriptures and was extremely eloquent and well educated. Who do you think Jesus learnt all his scripture from?

Nicky Gumbel makes the touching observation that half of Jesus’ DNA came from Mary and so he probably looked like her in some ways. Maybe when we look into Jesus’ eyes, we will recognise his mother in them.

I want this song at my funeral (not a morbid thought when you are born again)

Psalm 34:1-10

I was in such a good mood from the Magnificat that I found every single verse of this psalm beautiful.

Those who look to him are radiant‘ (v. 5). I watched a cookery competition the other day, ‘Junior Bake-off‘. The competitors had to bake something to represent their ideal future career. One girl baked a cross as she said her father was a Pastor and she wanted to be one too. We all cheered at home in delighted surprise but looking at her we could have guessed. Her face radiated love, peace and joy. If all the contestants had lined up and we had been asked to choose the really Christian child, we would have selected her. The other contestants were of course beautiful in their own ways but ‘slightly less radiant’.

Moses always had a radiant face after communing with God and had to wear a veil to damp down the brightness. I remember reading at church once from a high pulpit (which is rare in trendy modern churches) and I could feel my face glowing afterwards. You really can tell joyous Christians from their radiant faces. My Pastor says that bitterness and unbelief makes lines on your face. People don’t need to spend money on expensive face-creams (especially if they are made from foetal cells https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/nov/3/aborted-fetus-cells-used-in-anti-aging-products/ ) they just have to accept Jesus and the Holy Spirit fully into their lives. They will make us beautiful both internally and externally.

I have been ‘saved out of all my troubles’ (v.6) by the Lord. How many troubles is the poor man saved from? All his troubles! Shout it out loud.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them‘. Amazing. Give thanks to your Guardian angel. He is your best friend and protector, leading you and willing you to eternal life. Show him some gratitude.

Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing‘. If you’re seeking the Lord, you probably won’t win the lottery or be given a sportscar but, by definition, these things can’t have been good for you. Because, if they were good for you, you wouldn’t lack them. In contrast: ‘those who fear the Lord lack nothing‘. By the time you have stopped seeking the Lord, found him and now fear him (have awe and respect for him) you have realised that an expensive car will just get scratched, depreciate and rust and winning the lottery would present quite a few difficulties. Your definition of needs and wants will have evolved and worthless consumerist desires will have dropped away. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in the Lord and not in his possessions.

The Angel Gabriel visits Mary: 14th March 2021

Numbers 1:1-2:9

At first glance, today’s Old Testament reading looks like a dull list of numbers we can scan through quickly before getting on with breakfast. However, there are a few interesting points.

A census is taking place of who can fight in the Israelite army and the total number of men comes to 603,550. This is a pretty impressive fighting force. We need to take a count sometimes of who can fight alongside us. At 06:00 this morning, my fighting force appeared to comprise of just me and my dog but later my wife joined me for breakfast to discuss today’s New Testament reading – which is outstanding. However, it is important that we Christians are always part of a vibrant church community. There can be no lone-rangers in Christianity. We all need back-up. Just as we should never be impertinent to a single police officer because they represent the entire law enforcement community and can call on backup from the army if necessary, I know that all my Pentecostal friends are there for me during any personal or spiritual crisis and, as I am also a member of the Catholic Church, I can call on thousands of my brethren all the way up to the Pope if needed. All practicing Christians, who are active members of a parish community, have an impressive army backing us up twenty-four hours a day.

It’s fascinating that the census of fighting men in Numbers 1 is God’s idea even though He would already precisely know how many fighting men there were. The data is for Moses’ information. However, later in 1 Chronicles 1: ‘Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel‘ and David gets in major trouble with God as a result, culminating in 70,000 men falling dead with a plague. It’s a puzzle as to why carrying out the census in Numbers is ok but the later one is not. The first point is that we shouldn’t do anything that Satan incites us to do but it can be difficult to discern whether something was our idea or whether it came from an outside influence. The general consensus about why the census in Chronicles was a bad idea is that David was starting to rely on his own resources and power rather than God’s. He wanted to count his people so that he knew he could launch an attack on enemy forces and win – without needing to ask God for help. He wanted reassurance that he had enough assets to be independent from God. I often get the temptation to check how much money is in my pension fund – to see if there is enough for my whole retirement. However, I should just relax and know that God will make sure I have sufficient provision – as he has done for my entire life – when the time comes.

This passage is a handy list of the tribes of Israel. It’s a good mental challenge to try to memorise the names of the 12 tribes – just like trying to remember the names of the twelve apostles. I find the names of the 12 tribes somewhat elusive because there are still 12 names in this list of potential soldiers, even though the Levites are excluded (as they are going to look after the tabernacle rather than fight) which makes 13 tribes. How can this be when Jacob ‘only’ had 12 sons by 4 different women (sounds exhausting)? The answer, if you look closely, is that Joseph had two sons: Ephraim and Manasseh – and the descendants of these two are counted separately.

(v.51) states that anyone, other than a Levite, who goes near the tabernacle shall be put to death. This is a long way from being able to come into God’s presence today and address him as ‘Abba (Daddy), Father’ thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus.

Luke 1:26-28

This is the first time we hear about Mary in the Nativity story and what an amazing introduction it is.

Mary and I go back a long way. I was brought up as a typically slack Church of England Christian. My parents might have attended church twice a year at the most. My primary school was actually called St. Mary’s and I remember, at the age of seven, reading out Luke’s nativity story in the neighbouring St. Mary’s church as part of a carol concert. Even at this young age, I was impressed by the role of Mary and didn’t quite understand how throughout my entire Anglican school education little thought or reflection was dedicated to the Holy Family: Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.

When I became a Catholic, there was a lot more attention given to Mary. I even found myself carrying a statue of her through the rainy streets of Holywell on a pilgrimage while a bystander with a megaphone shouted at us that we were all ‘idol worshippers’. I am not a big fan of huge statues and parading in public but the fact is that it is harmless. I think a proper parade in a devoutly Catholic country like Spain would be awesome. The simple fact is that Catholics, exactly like Protestants, worship God alone. They do not worship idols and they do not worship Mary. A statue or a painting of Mary is used in exactly the same way that we might refer to a photograph of a member of our family. It’s just a reminder of what they look like. None of us will worship the painting that advertises today’s blog.

Anglicans seem to warming up a little towards how incredible a disciple Mary was: ‘In the greatest and most decisive act of faith in history she offered herself to God as a clean page on which he could write what he wanted’ (Nicky Gumbel (153)).

There are several doctrines about Mary that need to be carefully considered. Having spent 40 years as an Anglican, 14 years as a Catholic and the last 2 years mixing with Pentecostals, here is my view:

God sent the angel Gabriel ‘to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph (Luke 1:27). Don’t be confused that this was going to be a normal kind of marriage, that they were going to settle down and have children, this was something completely different. When the gospel says the angel was sent ‘to a virgin’, Mary’s virginity wasn’t a temporary biological state. Being a virgin was her job! Her vocation was to be a virgin. In verse 34, after she is told she is to have a son Mary says ‘How will this be since I am a virgin?’ (v.34). This is her stating that her job is to be a professional virgin for ever. She is never going to have sexual relations with anyone ever. She was dedicated to God as a young child and is His bride already. Instead of punishing her, as the same angel punished Zechariah in yesterday’s reading for being impertinent, the angel could have said at this stage: ‘Good point!”.

Books like the non-canonical ‘The Protevangelium of James‘ give some tantalising glimpses into Mary’s infancy leading up to these events, with Mary being dedicated to God at the age of 3 by her parents and brought up in the temple, but as this book was condemned by Pope Innocent I in 405, we can’t take anything from it as the ‘gospel truth’ even though details like the names of Mary’s parents, Anne and Joachim, have been accepted by the church.

When discussing Mary’s perpetual virginity, many people point out that the Bible mentions that Jesus had ‘brothers’. However, these didn’t have to have come from Mary. The Eastern Church tradition is that Joseph was an old man when he agreed to be Mary’s guardian / ‘husband’ as she needed to be removed from her home in the the temple before she reached puberty. Joseph had already had children by a previous wife and was now a widower and so Jesus had older ‘step-half-brothers’, who had neither Mary as their mother nor the Holy Spirit as their father. The Roman church states that ‘James and Joseph’ are the sons of ‘the other Mary’ referred to in Matthew 28:1. Half-brothers and brothers are often rolled together in the Bible. For example, Joseph had 11 ‘brothers’ but only one of these, Benjamin, had the same mother as his. It doesn’t really matter. Even if Mary had become a normal wife and mother after having Jesus, any children she produced wouldn’t have had the Holy Spirit as their father and so they would have been half-brothers at best. We can all agree to disagree, but I know that if was a very old man and had witnessed my very young wife give birth to the son of God, with angels and visits from the Magi – I would want to just be her friend and protector.

It is difficult not to be slightly irritated by modern translations of Luke 1:28. I long to see the traditional ‘Douay-Rheims’ version from Saint Jerome’s fourth century Latin translation: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace‘. Virtually every modern Bible switches to a variety of ‘highly favoured’. Even my Catholic Bible has ‘Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favour‘ which is horrible in comparison. There is a hymn called ‘The Angel Gabriel from heaven came‘ which has the final lines: ‘Most highly favoured lady! Gloria!‘. A priest gleefully pointed out that many people sing: ‘Most highly flavoured gravy‘, which I can never un-hear. I am sorry if I have just ruined your life as well. ‘Hail Mary, full of grace‘ exactly implies that Mary is exactly the right person, predestined by God before she was conceived, to be the mother of Jesus. All creation paused in silence, waiting for her to give her perfect free-will consent.

Mary’s pregnancy must have been awesome – to have her own blood separated by just a thin placental wall from the perfect blood of Jesus for 40 weeks. She provided life support to God. There is also a good chance at the time of delivery that some of a baby’s blood cells will enter the mother’s bloodstream. How awesome is that?

Psalm 33:12-22

God is always keeping a loving, close eye on us to rescue us and keep us alive if we have a holy reverence and love for him.

‘But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love (v.18).

Bibliography:

The Protevangelium of James

https://amzn.to/3uxjxeI

Picture by: Luca Giordano, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Plague / John the Baptist: March 13th 2021

Leviticus 26:14-27:34

(v.14) “But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands”

(v. 16) “I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life.”

(V.25) “When you withdraw into your cities, I will send a plague among you.”

Oh dear, this all sounds a bit familiar while facing at least another 3 weeks of Covid lockdowns.

NG (p. 151) comments that the reference to making the ‘sky like iron’ (v.19) could mean that prayers don’t get through to God while our relationship with him is broken. I think a remedy is ‘Praying in tongues (other languages)’. If we have asked the Holy Spirit to dwell fully in us and allow Him to pray to God for us, through our Spirit, than our prayers will get through.

Invite the Holy Spirit fully into your life so that He can pray through you:

“Come Holy Spirit and fill my heart. I invite you fully into my life. Give me a full measure of all of your gifts – particularly the gift of Praying in Tongues. Enkindle in me the power of your love. Send forth your Spirit and let me be recreated, so that you will renew the face of the earth.”

JM (p.199) states that we all must attempt to do what God instructs us to do – to keep his commandments.

However, the extraordinary list of diverse laws in the Old Testament meant that the Israelites were doomed to failure. We are all law breakers. Sometimes we don’t even know what all the laws are. I was nearly run down by somebody recently riding a silent electric scooter down the middle of the road. I knew it was illegal for him to ride it, because I had read this in a newspaper. I don’t know if the rider knew this or just didn’t care. The point being is that nobody can fully comply with an ever-increasing list of laws. We needed Jesus to become sin for us and ransom us by means of his blood, so that our sin (non-compliance with the law) could be forgiven and we could have a childlike relationship with God our father.

Thanks to Jesus, the ‘sky like iron’ has changed to a glorious sunny day.

Luke 1: 1-25

Who wrote the most pages in the New Testament ?

Most people would say Saint Paul. But looking in my NIV, the New Testament is around 286 pages long. Paul wrote 57 pages of these but Luke wrote 72 pages.

Doctor Luke, the only Gentile writer, compiled the largest chunk of the New Testament (the Gospel bearing his name and the Book of Acts) having carried out meticulous research using eye-witness accounts (v.1).

The first puzzle in this passage is who is the mysterious ‘Theophilus’ that Paul is writing this account for. There are plenty of theories: maybe he was the High Priest, perhaps he was a lawyer or a historian?

In verse 5, Luke stresses what a respectable family John the Baptist comes from. Not only was his father a priest but his mother was also descended from the first High Priest, Aaron brother of Moses.

The next puzzle regards alcohol. (v.15) ‘He (John the Baptist) is never to take wine or other fermented drink’. Why can’t someone especially dedicated to God drink fermented drink ? Is it something to do with the yeast? I drink apple cider vinegar every morning so I would be disqualified. Many people point back to Numbers 6:3 to interpret this reading and propose that John the Baptist was some kind of Nazirite – like Samson (perhaps they are confused by his long hair). However, I prefer Leviticus 10:8-10 when the Lord said to Aaron: ‘You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die’. John the Baptist was a Levite, the Israelite tribe from which all the priests came, and his role was to make the people ready for the Lord. According to Leviticus 10-11, wine can inhibit someone from ‘distinguishing between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean’ and from teaching effectively.

Maybe John the Baptist could enter into some kind of ‘Tent of Meeting’ in the wilderness with God to receive assistance and guidance?

In verse 17, Luke states that John will ‘go on before the Lord, in the Spirit and power of Elijah‘ (see Malachi 3:1 and 4:5). John denied that he was actually ‘Elijah’ (John 1:21) even though Jesus said he was (Matthew 11:14) ‘And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come‘ but he fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy in a spiritual sense. Jesus implies that there can be several different ‘Elijahs’ with John being this specific one. Of course, the original Elijah is still alive (to God) because ‘He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive (Luke 20:38) and turns up in Luke 9:30 at the Transfiguration: ‘Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus.’

In verses 18-20, Zechariah unwisely doubts the Archangel Gabriel and is struck dumb. It is never wise to be rude to an Archangel. There is an interesting contrast between his disrespectful question: ‘How can I be sure of this?‘ and Mary’s question tomorrow: ‘How will this be since I am a virgin?‘ – to which Gabriel could well have answered: ‘Good point!’

Proverbs 7:1-5

Wisdom will keep you away from the adulteress.

Adultery is amazingly common these days – with divorce and remarriage common.

It’s an unpopular fact that if you or your spouse have been married more than once than you are living in a permanent state of adultery, unless it has been proved that any previous marriages were not valid or any previous spouses have died. This can be difficult and painful to unravel but, if people are willing and they speak to a qualified priest about their relationships, it can be sorted out: ‘For with God nothing [is or ever] shall be impossible’ [Luke 1:37].

Of course, God forgives all our sins but we also have to make a conscious effort to turn away from sin and not live in the same sinful way on a daily basis.

After the woman caught in adultery was not stoned (John 8: 3-11) we read: ‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go and leave your life of sin.’

Of course, it’s easy for me to say this as I have been happily married for nearly 30 years (thank God) but the world can tempt us with ‘adultery’ even when we are in our own homes doing something innocent. I wanted to read the world news today and clicked on a well known popular news site. The news stories all seemed well researched and informative. However, down the right hand side of the screen, there were dozens of gossipy celebrity news stories involving scantily clad celebrities. It’s common online that some useful information can be set up as bait to allow dubious material to infiltrate our lives. I had to swap to BBC News, which has some other pitfalls but at least it ensures that all its subjects are modestly dressed. That was the wise thing to do.

For ‘The Bible in One Year’ and recommended commentaries use:

https://amzn.to/2P2Pg77

https://amzn.to/37LapcJ

https://amzn.to/3kh88Lo

Daily Reflection on the Word of God

For the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”. Hebrews 4:12

Since I became baptized in the Holy Spirit, the best part of the day is waking up early (sometimes a little too early thanks to my attention-seeking miniature dachshund) and carrying out a daily study on the Word of God. There is always something new to learn.

The Word of God really has changed my life. Give daily readings a try and see if you become a new creation in a few months’ time; energised and nurtured by the Word of God.

Join me as I read the scriptures each day, reflect on what other authors say about the daily readings and consider how the Bible illuminates my life.

I will try to post a few days in advance of the calendar date – to allow for emergency interruptions and for you to read ahead as you like.

I follow the NIV ‘Bible in One Year’ which gives a New Testament & Old Testament reading and a Psalm / Proverb for each calendar day:

https://amzn.to/2P2Pg77

My favourite commentary is by Nicky Gumbel:

https://amzn.to/37LapcJ

I will also refer to Joyce Meyer’s comments in ‘The Everyday Life Bible’:

https://amzn.to/3kh88Lo

Join me and let the living Word of God actively change your life for the better.

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